Photographers Document First-Ever Instance of Humpback Whales Mating – And It’s Between Males

humpback whales sex males first ever images photographs

A pair of photographers unexpectedly shot the first-ever images of two humpback whales engaged in sexual intercourse — and even more remarkably, the sexual encounter was between two males.

Photographers Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano were whale-watching off the coast of Maui, Hawaii in January 2022.

humpback whales sex males first ever images photographs

As the photographers shot images, two male humpback whales approached their boat and circled around it before engaging in some close activity together then eventually parting ways.

Krannichfeld and Romano knew that they had witnessed something highly unusual with the pair of humpback whales — so the photographers contacted PhD student Stephanie Stack of the Pacific Whale Foundation.

It turned out that Krannichfeld and Romano had photographed the first-ever images of humpback whales — a species that can span 50 feet long and weighs more than 30 tons — having sex for the first time in recorded history.

The photos of the underwater tryst not only marked the first time humpback whales have been observed copulating, but it was also the first recorded instance of homosexual behavior in the species — because both whales were male.

A Historic Finding By Two Photographers

The groundbreaking photographs captured by Krannichfeld and Romano provide an unparalleled glimpse into the private lives of these humpback whales — despite these majestic marine animals being one of the most studied species of whales.

“Despite being well-studied for decades, the sexual behavior of humpback whales has remained mostly a mystery until now,” Stack says in a statement to The Guardian.

“This discovery challenges our preconceived notions about humpback whale behavior. While we have long recognized the complex social structures of these incredible creatures, witnessing the copulation of two male whales for the first time is a unique and remarkable event.”

According to a press release by the Pacific Whale Foundation, the two whales circled the boat numerous times, allowing Krannichfeld and Romano the opportunity to carefully document the event by holding their cameras over the side of the stationary vessel. The Foundation says that it is illegal to swim with or approach humpback whales within 100 yards in Hawaii and the vessel remained in neutral as the whales approached the boat.

Although this is the first time it has been reported for humpback whales, homosexual behavior is common in the animal kingdom and well-documented for many species of cetaceans.
Scientists think humpback whales’ homosexual tendencies may be a way to practice reproductive behaviors, could be a way to form social alliances or to assert dominance.

The scientists’ paper on the photos has been published in Marine Mammal Science.

Image credits: All photos by Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano via Pacific Whale Foundation.